August: Osage County

WRITTEN BY: Tracy Letts
STARRING: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper
RATING: 3 stars

Although I've never seen the play version of August: Osage County, I can see how it would have worked well. Unfortunately, Tracy Letts who wrote both scripts failed to adapt his own work. Plays are very different to films. While long scenes full of dialogue and limited spaces are necessary in plays and work well, films are far more visual and require a different way of telling the story. The family issues raised in the film are complex and interesting, and there are some very funny moments, but it was too long and several scenes were drawn out too much. While American critics seem to be heaping praise on August: Osage County, I found it only mildly entertaining.

August: Osage County takes a look at the lives of the four dysfunctional women in the Weston family. The matriarch is Violet (Meryl Streep), who is a pill-addicted cancer patient and seems to spend more time yelling at everyone than showing any kind of motherly affection. Her three daughters are Barbara (Julia Roberts) who is facing a potential divorce from her husband (Ewan McGregor), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who has stayed in Osage County to care for her mother but is secretly dating her first cousin (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Karen (Juliette Lewis) who is newly engaged to a rich man (Dermot Mulroney). Each woman lives a very different life but they must find a way to bond when they face a family crisis at home in Oklahoma.

While the performances are good, it is hard to feel any empathy and very little sympathy for most of the characters. By far, the most likeable character was the uncle played by Chris Cooper. He has some touching moments and a climactic confrontation with his wife. Streep seems to treat her performance as if she is on a Broadway stage and over-acts a little. It is great to see Roberts in a different role shouting expletives throughout the film, and she is solid. Nicholson was also strong and Lewis toned down her usual over-the-top facial expressions to give a good performance. This is definitely a female-driven story so McGregor, Cumberbatch and Mulroney were unfortunately underused.

There are a lot of issues explored in the film including alcoholism, substance abuse, cancer, suicide, fidelity, child abuse, physical abuse, marriages and various other relationships. It is no wonder the film was two hours long. But several scenes needed editing. If it were not for the humour in some of the arguments, you could completely zone out.